Sunday, September 5, 2010

"Should-less" Labor

In honor of Labor Day, in the spirit of celebrating workers, from the perspective of everyone who works hard for the money, I have one thing to say to all you bosses out there:


Here is why:

1. "Shoulds" are an ineffective motivator of change.  They can be effective in promoting short-term compliance.  But if you want employees to be inspired versus numb compliers (who then become complainers), then drop the "shoulds."

2. "Shoulds" demonstrate limited leadership capability.  They imply to others, "you should do what I tell you to do because I'm telling you to do it because I was told to tell you to do it."  A valuable leader communicates in ways that demonstrate responsibility and critical thinking, not auto-rehashing someone else's ideas.

3. "Shoulds" take a top-down approach to work activity.  They rule out any sense of collaboration, and thereby alienate the worker from the duties.  When workers feel like a valuable part of the system they tend to show up more and work harder.

4. "Shoulds" frequently are received as shaming.  If you have a worker that is not able, for whatever reason, to meet your standards of "should", the s/he may feel shamed, humiliated, and will call in sick more often to deal with all the physical symptoms that come from feeling shamed and humiliated.

5. "Shoulds" terminate discourse.  There is no input, nothing to be said once a boss says, "You should do it this way." This again, inevitably leads to alienation, complaining, and a high amount of sick days.

What's the alternative to "shoulds?"You COULD try:

1. Telling employees why a policy needs to be implemented.  The more someone understands why they are being told to something, the more likely it is they will do it.

2. Find common ground with goals.  A successful project means more jobs, money, and all those benefits everyone in the company wants.

3. When possible, include workers in the decision making process.  Ask for feedback, discussion, things that help worker feel attached to the common goal.

4. Use language that communicates respect.  Some examples would be, "Our accreditation agency is expecting us to do it this way..." (versus "You should do it this way...").  Or, "We believe the following steps will help us reach our common goal..." (versus "You should do it this way..."). Or, "Based on the data, it is clear we will thrive if we do these things differently..." (versus, "You should do it this way...").

5. Keep dialogue open, especially if an individual employee is having trouble producing.  Ask questions before offering solutions.  Listen to what your employees are telling you.  When appropriate, don't hesitate to refer to a therapist or an EAP. 

Most Americans spend 30-50% of their lives at work.  Wouldn't it be great to have it go smoother? Drop the "Shoulds" and you'll have a much better Labor Year!

Damon L. Jacobs is a Licensed Marriage Family Therapist seeing individuals and couples in New York City at Mental Health Counseling & Marriage And Family Therapy Of New York. He is also the author of "Absolutely Should-less: The Secret to Living the Stress-Free Life You Deserve."

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